On November 11, we hosted the fifth webinar in our 2021 Virtual Chordoma Community Conference (CCC) Series, focused on coping with anxiety, depression and grief. According to our Chordoma Survivorship Survey, more than half of chordoma patients and survivors and nearly 80 percent of caregivers and co-survivors experience at least one emotional health challenge during their journey with chordoma.
During the webinar, Jennifer Bires, LCSW, OSW-C, Executive Director of Life with Cancer and Patient Experience at Inova Schar Cancer Institute, and Megan Whetstone, LCSW, an oncology social worker with the Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center, discussed:
- Common mental health challenges experienced by cancer survivors and co-survivors
- Ways to manage and cope with these challenges
- What type of support is available
- How to get help for yourself or your loved one
5 Key takeaways
1. You’re not alone
A chordoma diagnosis does not just affect your body. Learning you have a rare cancer, managing treatment, and dealing with physical side effects can also affect your mind, bringing up a range of feelings and emotions. Whether you’re currently in treatment, finished with treatment, or supporting a loved one with chordoma, it is normal to experience feelings such as anxiety, fear, depression, and grief. You are not alone with your struggles. These are some of the top emotional and cognitive challenges shared by members of the chordoma community:
Data pulled from the Chordoma Survivorship Survey in November 2021
2. You don’t have to suffer in silence
If you are experiencing any of these emotions, it’s not your fault, it’s not your choice, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Several factors, from genes and brain chemistry to social environment and even the season, can affect how you react to life situations at any given moment. It’s part of “living in this messy world,” as Jennifer Bires put it, but it’s also not something you have to “just live with.” Whether you have diagnosable depression or anxiety or are experiencing symptoms of sadness and worry, there are treatment options that can help, including:
- Talk therapy
- Exercise programs
- Nutrition guidance
- Sleep support
3. Resilience can be cultivated
At every step along your journey with chordoma, there will be unexpected twists and turns. Cultivating resilience in the face of these challenges can help you deal with the upsets, pitfalls, successes, pain, and trauma that are part of the shared cancer experience. Being able to take stock of what type of person you are, how you’ve historically navigated adversity APART from your disease, will help you anticipate your reactions and manage any emotional ups and downs.
4. Mental anchors can help
One helpful way to balance emotional peaks and deflect non-productive thinking is to identify a mental “anchor” you can use to bring you back to the present moment. Whether it’s a visual cue like looking at the horizon or a charm on a bracelet, an auditory cue like a phrase or mantra you repeat in your mind, or a tangible cue like pressing your fingers together, the idea is to find a repetitive action you can take whenever you notice your emotions spiking. Combining mental anchors with other coping tools such as journaling, gratitude tracking, and mindfulness can enable you to harness and manage feelings instead of being engulfed by them.
5. Taking small steps can make a big difference
Though asking for help or even knowing where to start can feel overwhelming, there are many tools available, and they’re easier to access than you may think. Even a tiny step, such as discussing your emotions with your treating physician, can help them direct you to professionals who have experience working with cancer patients (e.g. therapists, support groups, family or marriage counselors, etc.). Or, if you’re not ready to pursue professional sources of support, identifying a trusted friend, family member, or faith guide with whom you can openly share your experiences is a highly beneficial way to begin processing and managing emotional distress.
- Chordoma Connections » The Foundation’s online community is an excellent resource for exchanging information and supporting each other. It also includes a Survivorship Specialist Directory, which can help you locate specialists who treat the many medical, emotional, practical, and social needs that may arise following treatment, as recommended by other chordoma community members.
- Peer Connect » Get one-on-one support from a trained Peer Guide through our free, confidential, peer support program.
- Chordoma support groups » Attend one of our virtual support groups to connect with other patients, survivors, or co-survivors for support, encouragement, and hope.
- Patient Navigator » Get personalized information and support at any stage of your journey from one of our professional Patient Navigators.
- Psychologytoday.com » Find licensed counselors in your area through this online database.